Thursday, August 27, 2015

Waxing Poetic and the Rub

Today sitting at school, getting some planning done for the upcoming semester, I realized it was dark and was surprised because I didn't think I had been in the office that long. Dark meant it was after 7pm, but I looked at the clock and it was only 630. I thought perhaps it was due to the cloud cover, it is our second rainy season, and with Typhoon Goni's landfall in the southeast it was plausible it would have caused an early dusk. However, this was not the case, fall is in the air. On my way home I noticed several things; the cicadas have fallen silent and have been replaced by crickets, the temperature has fallen 10 degrees in the last week (and I thought due to the typhoon) and it was dark earlier. Since we don't have daylight savings in the fall it's naturally dark in the early evening and light very early. In the summer very early is 430am, but in the fall it's closer to 530am.

I love fall and if you believe Iliza Schlesinger all girls are required to love fall. I can almost agree with that I don't know a single girl who doesn't love fall (and pumpkin everything!!!). It's getting closer to cozy clothes, pumpkin spice lattes, boots and football! I wouldn't say I'm a huge football fan, but I do love my Ducks (Go Ducks!) so I follow them, but I guess there is some kind of subconscious association with football from growing up with football on in the background during the holidays. The sound makes me feel warm and cozy and more often than not fall asleep, except of course when the Ducks are playing. The Duck games remind me of college and game day. Three years in the marching band and football was more than just tailgating.

OK, now that I've reveled in the cozy thoughts of fall approaching I have to share my current woes of living in this country. I've had an epiphany. Drivers all drive defensively. No one looks out for anyone. There is this terrible cliche that I used to hear students complain about in Eugene. They would always complain about the students from the Asian countries and how terrible they were at driving. I think I understand it now. It's a cultural thing and has more to do with how they are taught to drive and not about anything else.  As I ride my bike around town and walk to and from school I've been observing drivers, partly because if I don't I will absolutely get run over, but the other part is to see if I can figure out some kind of rhyme or reason to how they drive. The only thing I can discern is that everyone is only watching out for themselves. I've come across three car accidents in the few miles around my house in the last couple months, all of them not just little fender benders. These cars are CRUNCHED. One of them was a taxi that must have been going 50 when he hit the back-end of a bus. I don't get it....I'm speculating and complaining. I hate that cars feel comfortable passing by me mere inches from my arm. It's not something I can become comfortable with and I can't fathom how anyone can.

The other issue I'm having lately is my slob neighbors. Currently there are three bags of trash, at least 100 cigarette butts, 2 empty cigarette packages, 3 cans of spray something or other for their motorcycles and 2 empty coffee cans outside their front door. It's disgusting and the owners of this apartment complex don't seem to give a flying leap what they do. These are the same 4 college age student who supposedly don't live there. According to the landlord their is a mom and her daughter there. No, their absolutely isn't an actual adult living next door. There is an annoying girl, who is a squealer, and three guys that come and go at all hours, like to have pro-wrestling tournaments, chase afore mentioned squealer around and sing karaoke in a real loud, really off key voice.

Both of these things I'm struggling with are just a contradiction to what I expect and the reality of living. I suppose there would be similar issues just slightly different if I was back home in Oregon.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Long time

I recently started writing some short pieces to get paid and as I submitted my article and (oh my goodness) got published, I realized I hadn't posted here in a while. I really didn't realize how long it had been! More than a year! I've been remiss!

There is entirely too much to catch up on, but the Cliffs Notes version is another year of teaching (picture me in a tornado being carried with the papers I grade and the students I see and the desk I sit at), not too many adventures...actually really no adventures. I've stayed pretty close to home. I was in Oregon for a month at the beginning of the year and then we hit the ground running with more classes and more new teachers and all of the sudden it was the summer again.

We have 6 more weeks until the beginning of the new semester. I'll take time to catch ya'll up. For now, ciao!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cont...The Heat, Sweat and Cicadas

Moving on to the sweat. Obviously a result of the oppressive heat.  I'm not going to go into any details really, but if you've lived in a humid climate you feel my pain, but for those of you who haven't the best way I can describe it is similar to walking into a steam room fully clothed. I ride my bike to Costco the other day. It was hot and with the humidity it was gross. By the time we got there my leather belt was wet. That's how much sweat there was.

The cicadas...oh the cicadas. I used to like the sound. It reminded me of camping. The outdoors, summer time, friends, swimming in the lake. Now I have a Pavlovian response to the sound and immediately know i'ts going to be miserable out. And the numbers! The numbers!! There aren't a few out there. There is a symphony of buzzing, loud enough at times to drown out  any thought I might be trying to have. 

 Alas my favorite time, the rainy season, has passed.  I am a true Oregonian and look forward to the fall and cooler weather.

The Heat, Sweat and Cicadas

This is my second summer in Japan and frankly if this country was like this year round there is no way I would have taken the job. Being from the perfectly temperate region of the PNW I am absolutly out of my element. My desire not to suffer heat exhaustion and nausea from the diabolical combination of heat and humidity has me cowering in my aor conditioned apartment, against my better judgement. I would much prefer to be outside enjoying the sunshine, but alas during this time period it isn't going to happen. I look forward to weather becoming more tolerable at the end of August. Until then I'll continue to gape in astonishment at the men who go running covered head to toe in clothing and the women who stroll around in their layers upon layers of clothing and a parasol to top off the ensemble. 

To be cont.... 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hazards of being a teacher...

Being a teacher is the most amazing, fantastic, rewarding, frustrating, infuriating, tiresome and most exhilarating experience in my date. I would say ever, but I haven't had my own children yet or found "the one" so I'm leaving room for something to at least match the level of emotional ups and downs that occur on an hourly basis as a teacher. Why do I say the "hazards of being a teacher?" Well I'm using hazard as a verb here and not a noun. So when I say hazard I'm talking about the risk that I take being a teacher. The gamble putting myself out there for underdeveloped adults (juvenile delinquents) and the jeopardy of physical and mental harm  (ok so I'm using it as a noun and a verb). Let me explain...

Hazard #1 - Tendonitis in your shoulder(s): If you write on a chalkboard or whiteboard all day, it's going to   happen. Stock up on frozen peas and ibuprofen. Learn to be ambidextrous.

Hazard #2 - Losing your voice at least once a year: It's either going to be at the beginning of the year when you have to re-establish your "teacher" voice, or during cold season and talking through your cold causes more harm than good. I'm generally in the latter category, because anyone who knows me....well you know my voice doesn't need re-establishing.

Hazard #3 - Sleepless Nights: Whether you are fretting about a failing student, unfinished lesson plans, ungraded papers, the next standardized test or questioning why so-and-so was crying in class the other day, you will have insomnia. Currently I am awake at 1:23am because teaching content based language or skill based language has been running through my head for the last hour. I am teaching an Advanced Listening class where I'm supposed to be teaching students how to take notes on content they've never heard before!!! AND I've been told the idea is to be teaching the content....Wha!!!????? Which leads me to...

Hazard #4 - Confusion...utter confusion: With the students, parents, administration, curriculum, the person who chose the textbooks,the textbooks, what the heck you are doing....

Hazard #5 -Broken Heart:  Students will take you on an emotional roller coaster. I'm one of those teachers who puts all of her heart into her students' care. This is a huge risk. I love my students, all of them. I want so many things for them that I forget sometimes they need to want it MORE than I do, or nothing I do will make a difference.

Hazard #6 - Addiction: To your students, to writing lesson plans, to coming up with activities and new methods for'll need to know (NEED TO KNOW) the best way to teach whatever you are teaching! Also coffee (tea, chocolate).

Hazard #7 - Falling in love: With your students, you won't want to let them go. I'm facing switching classes after the semester and I just don't want to let "my kids" go! I know I can't do anything about it, but I'm so proud of their progress I want to continue to be a part of their journey. The time and energy and sleepless nights and then they go off into the world without you and you just hope that what you tried to help them learn will stick.

I love teaching.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dreams come true and Nightmares realized

Oh my my my...I knew it had been awhile since I'd posted, but I didn't realize it had been 8 months! So I'm going to catch you up and I hope you'll bear with me there is some and much to tell.

The end of September brought calmer and cooler weather. Fall semester was much less stressful since I knew the students and understood what to expect as far as my schedule was concerned.  I didn't have any new classes and so when the students came back the only big concern I had was how much of their language skill had decreased over the break. Unfortunately, for many it was considerable, but luckily within a couple weeks of cracking the whip they were back to the level they were at when they left.  The entire semester seemed to blow right by. Before I knew it, it was October, November, December and then we were breaking for Christmas.

My students continued to improve and many of them decided to study abroad for the 2014 school year.  We celebrated Halloween with pumpkins and costumes. The GTFs all went to Thanksgiving dinner at our favorite (at the time) Nepalese restaurant and when Christmas approached we decorated the English Plaza with snowflakes, lights and a couple of fake trees. We even had secret santas amongst the GTFs (which I took great pleasure in sneaking into my co-workers cubicle daily to leave little treats) and the students were introduced to White Elephant gifts. I took off Christmas Eve day to go home to Oregon and spend the holiday with my family.

Travel during that time was limited to weekend trips into Tokyo to try a new restaurant (burritos and margaritas at Chile's in Harajuku and halloween shopping at Don Quixote in Roppongi Hills). I did take a very quick trip to Santa Rosa to see my grandmother when her health took a dip on a four day weekend, but the rest of my time was spent recovering from insane week days.

Being home for Christmas was wonderful. I hadn't seen the family since the previous May, when I was home for the study tour and 180 freshman students in tow. I couldn't believe how big my niece and nephew were, it was all I could do not to smother them. When I stayed with them I slept with Madison just to be closer. My nephew being the big boy he his saves his snuggles for grandma and mom, but I get his silliness and big hugs when he first sees me, so I'm ok with that. Before heading back to Japan, my mom and I flew down to see grandma again. It was a lot of  fun and felt very decadent to fly down and back just for a day, but certainly well worth the time and money.

I flew back to Japan after the first of the year (I got to celebrate New Year's Eve with my friend Alma at the Opera) and after 1 week of classes, I was off for a week! Oi! The school system here!! During my break I made a split second decision to go to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Back to school for a week to give finals, a weekend and then one more day and we were done. The first school year of my life in Japan was over. The year which seemed to crawl by with every single second filled with tasks upon tasks was finished. I was a first year teacher and living in a new country and I survived...I more than survived I think I did pretty damn well!

Many of you are thinking to yourself or saying out loud "What did you learn Lee Ann? Can you speak Japanese now? Are you going to stay longer? Are you happy to went? Would you do it again?" Ok, Ok enough with the questions! The answers are Yes, Yes and Yes. I learned more than I can say. Mostly I learned about myself. My limits, my abilities and my capacity for bullshit. Yes, Japanese students spew as many excuses as American students. In all seriousness though, my students taught me as much, or more than I taught them, I'm sure of it. I know so much more about the English Language and how royally screwed up it is!! Goodness gracious! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to teach something when it isn't something taught, it's just innate!? I've learned many of the rules of the language, but also many of the ways we speak that have nothing to do with rules and everything to do with culture. For example, listen to the way people talk some time...not just the content of what they are saying, but what they are saying. Americans speak in idioms, phrases, quotes and rhetorical questions. Very little of what we say, taken literally, would make much sense.  I've needed to learn to listen to myself on a new level. It's been very revealing of my own speech patterns as well as helped me take notice of how others speak.

Can I speak Japanese...I speak some Japanese. I learned some slang and simple words just from listening to my students' frustrations in class. For example, I learned "seriously?" "difficult" "I don't understand"  and essentially "shit" just from my students. These aren't words I use they, are just ones I understand. From the lovely women who help us with everything from arranging re-delivery of a package to going to the post office or bank I've learned single words that express complex phrases like "this is a waste of resources (paper, time etc)" "don't be wasteful (food, time)" "amazing" "busy" "it can't be helped" and "super please help me with this." These words I use all the time and intend to for the rest of my life.

Yes, I'm staying longer. I have signed my intent, but I haven't heard back to find out if they intend to keep me. I have a feeling they will ;)

In February when school was out I spent some time in the office working on projects that kept getting pushed to the side during the school year and started packing to move into a new apartment in March.

The third week of February I left for Saigon, Vietnam. I stayed there for a week. It was an amazing experience. I traveled outside of Saigon to the Mekong Delta and a couple smaller towns to see the famous Cu Chi tunnels as well as the temple that is unique to Vietnams' religion. Most of the country is Catholic, but some still hold with their old religion. Saigon was insane, crossing the street was like a double dog dare. The motorcycles and cars don't stop, although they do watch for people, but they just swerve, not stop. It was loud and smelly. The food I ate was amazing and the amount of trash I saw on the streets and in the river was astounding.  I pray the people in Saigon are happy despite the government being unwilling to assist the people.  I definitely want to go back there is so much more to see just in Saigon, but I need to see the rest of the country as well.

From Saigon I took a bus to Siem Reap, Cambodia. That was an experience I don't need to have a again. 15 hours in a hot bus in bumper to bumper traffic going 35 miles an hour for hours and hours. The only positive part was we stopped in Phnom Penh to switch buses and I got to have some good coffee and meet a couple of interesting people who seemed to have been having a much harder go of it than I.

Siem Reap was everything and nothing like I imagined. It's a bit like seeing the White House in person. All the pictures take make it look like it's all by itself in the middle of nowhere, but it's really just plopped down in the middle of everything.

I arrived at night and by luck I was able to get a rickshaw from the drop off area to my hotel. He rearend a car on the way, but why not?! I was both surprised and not surprised. My hotel was lovely. Off the main road it was very quiet and a nice size. My room was spacious and overlooked the pool facing the west so I could see the sunset.

My first day in Siem Reap I was going to Angkor Wat. One of the places I'd wanted to see since I saw Tomb Raider in 2001. It was going to be hot. While the snow was piled high Japan I was much closer to the Equator and it was hot and humid in SouthEast Asia. My guide met me at the hotel and we left for the park. It was 9 am and I was so excited to get going. For the next 5 hours I walked in and around temples. I even hiked up a few of them. It was amazing. The only thing that ruined it for me was all the people! I wanted to be able to feel the age of the stones and sit in the quiet. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. My guide was knowledgeable and able to tell me some of the history of the temples as well as the stories of the carvings. Lunch was at a lovely restaurant just down the road from some of the temples. I was able to eat and then we took a nap in some hammocks. I was beginning to get a headache (I had a sneaking suspicion I was getting heat exhaustion) so I was eager to take a long break. By the time we decided to get going again, my head was subsiding but not gone.  After another 90 minutes of walking and hiking, I clearly was not going to feel any better. My guide wanted to make sure I saw everything that day, which I was glad of, but at a price. In the car on the way back to my hotel I ended up projectile vomiting everywhere!! I've never in my life had something like that happen! I did tell the driver to stop, but he didn't stop soon enough. After stopping and 3 more times  so I could throw up again, we made it back to the hotel where I ended up needing to eat stale bread, water and ginger ale for the next 6 hours to feel normal again.  I decided to play it safe and cancel my tour for the next day to recover. I know heat exhaustion is not something to mess with. The next day I slept,  hung out by the pool (in the shade) and read my book. I'm glad, for many reasons, that I stayed in that day. That night I got the news I'd been expecting and dreading. My beautiful grandmother had passed away. After spending many hours crying I book a flight back to Japan for the next day and then to Oregon the day after that. That was another adventure.

The only flight I could get back to Japan took me from Siem Reap to Kunming China to Shanghai to Tokyo. The next day I flew out from Cambodia, cutting my trip 5 days short. Going to Vietnam and Cambodia required VISAs and I knew that China required VISAs, but I also heard you didn't need one for less than 72 hours, so I was praying as I landed in China, all would be ok. It turns out, they were some of the nicest immigration officials I've ever dealt with. I was given a temporary VISA since I wouldn't be leaving the airport and I went on to find somewhere to spend the next 12 hours.  It seemed long layovers were common in this airport because there was a "hotel" which was incredibly expensive. I ended up in cafe where for a flat rate, I got a couch, blanket, tea and snacks as well as access to the WiFi. It was safe and secure and I was able to sleep for maybe 6 hours. The next day I flew to Shanghai and straight on to Tokyo. My only hold up there was having my bags searched because I had just come out of Shanghai.

Less than 15 hours later I was on a plane bound for Oregon and into my mom's arms at the airport. It was a difficult and also good two weeks. I'm so glad I was able to be with my family and be there to help my mom and be comforted by her as well.

Within 3 days of being back in Japan I started to move into my new apartment and the new team arrived. Since then it's been a busy whirlwind of activities and getting settle into new classes with 10 more teachers in the office.

This year I'm teaching several different kinds of classes and I still don't quiet feel settled into them. Most of my classes only occur once a week and with spotty attendance I struggle as to what the point of the classes when there really isn't much time to teach anything! Heading into the next week I have a better idea for the direction of a couple of the classes and I'm left struggling with 2 more.

With the summer quickly approaching and with it the humidity and heat I am dreading the days to come, but am thankful I can hide out in my air conditioned apartment. I'm taking piano lessons again and have found a new workout routine. Life has fallen into a bit of a more expected routine, but not boring or predictable by any means. I have some adventures to plan for August and look forward to making them happen.

It's 3:16 am , Japan time, I'm signing out and I promise I won't go so long without updating again.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Nats and Typhoons and Seoul...Oh my.

Let's say it's been a less than dull month since I last posted. Classes ended and "vacation" began. I say "vacation" because according to our contract we still had to be on campus several time during the summer to attend Open House to promote our department and program. While we did have chunks of time off, heading back to campus afterward sort of jerked you right back into teacher mode and as all teachers know it takes long enough to decompress after a semester or year without having to go back to work for 4 hours every two weeks.

During my time off I did find ways to occupy my time. I headed to Kessanuma in the Miyagi Prefecture to go help do some work in one of the more devastated areas of Tohoku region from 3/11. I have done a lot of volunteer work in my life but this was the first time I've ever worked in natural disaster area. It was a very profound experience for me.

After Kessanuma a quick trip home to Saitama and then back to north to Sendai. That was an amazing trip. I finally go to visit the city I had heard so much about when I was a teenager and going to Suttle Lake Camp. The sensei's all met up with me for dinner and then they escorted me around several of the best sight seeing areas including Matsushima. I also got to go to the new high school, which at this point isn't brand new, but it was amazing to see regardless.

I spent a couple weeks working on research and helping a couple students prepare for the TOEIC exam.

During this whole time, I have been battling plant nats. Annoying little bastards. I've been trying a number of things to get rid of them. Currently I have put them in the shower with the fan on and sprayed them all with vinegar, dish soap and water. If that doesn't work, I may have to say adios to this batch. It's so humid here, it's incredibly difficult to keep the soil dry!

I'll return to the Typhoon...

Seoul. Oh Seoul. Have you ever been somewhere and I thought "Yeah, I could have skipped that." Unfortunately that's how I feel about Seoul. While I did like the museums and sites that I took in and I really enjoyed the food I ate I had such a difficult time navigating the people) and the hostel I was staying in was awful) that I wanted to leave 3 days after I got there. I will always view my trip as a good cultural experience where I got to eat some good food, learn some new history, get an AMAZING foot massage and revealed that I do not ever want to stay in a hostel ever again. I still want to go to the southern part of the country. I've heard Busan is beautiful and that is where my friends are so I'll go there, but I doubt I'll return to Seoul...unless it's a day trip because I would like to go to Braai Republic again.

...and wrapping up the summer is typhoon Man-Yi  decided to make landfall 4 days before classes begin. I'm safe here in Saitama, nestled behind 4 other prefectures taking the brunt of the typhoon in this region of Japan. The rest of Honshu (the main island of Japan) isn't so lucky with severe flooding and evacuations.

As the summer winds down here (hopefully it's over soon) I begin to wonder if my time here will be more difficult because Autumn and Winter are my favorite seasons in Oregon. Since we are in a similar climate I have high hopes that I'll like it here just as much. Whatever it may be, I'll keep you posted!